Article about Urine reuse example in Rwanda


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  • hajo
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  • retired in Germany... but still interested in water and sanitation... especially in OSS... and especially in Africa...
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Re: Article about Urine reuse example in Rwanda

Dear all,

the quotes in my signature below this posting probably give some indication why ECOSAN may not take off:

More than 100 years ago societies decided to have flush toilets and direct (treated) wastewater into surface waters. Over decades and different centuries this strategy has been developed further and has become more complex. The removal of nutrients is one major aspect of wastewater treatment (with recent consideration of recovery).

The huge investments in sewer systems and treatment works hinder consideration of moving in a different direction. Instead, treatment works become bigger and more complex to fulfill increasing environmental requirements.

The thinking of all stakeholders is geared towards making wastewater more appropriate for release into surface waters. Engineers learn this, universities research improvements, banks finance it in developing countries, consultants recommend it to their clients, authorities in developing countries promise it to the population. But are we really doing the right thing (and doing it right)?

We humans are the only (land living) creature putting our excreta into water, all animals put them back to the soil which in one way or the other feeds them: they close the loop (ECOSAN). I am not preaching open defecation but ask for a new thinking how we also can close the loop instead of spoiling the environment by mining of (limited?) phosphate for fertiliser and releasing wastewater into rivers.

I have little hope that such change of direction could take place in the already industrialised world, too big is the financial pressure of existing infrastructure and the inertia of stakeholders who live of this state of the art. Would it be worthwhile to discuss and develop with authorities in developing countries alternative (and possibly more sustainable) strategies and technologies?

In Africa only a fraction (possibly less than 10%) of the urban population is connected to sewers and many of the ‘state-of-the-art’ treatment works do not function properly. Who are the stakeholders who can ‘push’ ECOSAN technology at larger scale and at higher political level? It’s probably not you and me on the SuSanA forum. Could it be the Red Cross mentioned by Kris in his opening post?

We must stop pouring wastewater into rivers, lakes and oceans but rather put our treated waste onto fields so that we do not need reducing the nutrient content but rather put it to good use. In those towns I lived in Africa this could possibly be organised. It may not work perfectly from the start, but our existing centralised sewer works in Europe have also been developed over the last 150 years. Please have again a look at the quotes below…

Ciao Hajo
We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of a genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E.F. Schumacher
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. :-)
Albert Einstein
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  • Heiner
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  • I am a retired organic farmer and interested in nutrient cycles. As an volunteer I now travel mainly to poor countries and together with locals I would like to find new ways of sustainable agriculture. This is beyond the regulations of IFOAM.
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Re: Article about Urine reuse example in Rwanda

Dear Hans,
as a fellow citizen I can just underline your words about the ignorance here in Germany. Although there are always some little lights in the dark. I expect in these days (soaring gas prices) politicians and scientists would take the recovery of nitrogen and other nutrients in their focus. But only phosphorous is now a big thing and is tried to filter out by an enormous technical effort.
One reason for this poor thinking is the proposed elimination of nutrients by the used technic. If you talk to scientists and some wastewater engineers they always claim 85-90% of the nutrients are off, when the "cleaned" wastewater is flowing into the river and the ocean.
But here are the results of a new study:
Weltkarte der menschlichen Abwässer - Hochauflösende Kartierung enthüllt Hotspots der Nährstoff- und Bakterieneinträge ins Meer -
(could not find the english version)
So this study shows another big lie about the progressive and advanced technology in the so called "high developed countries".
We can fly to mars and moon but are unable to close the nutrient loop as nature did over millions of years. And the worst part: we could but because of the costs we "can't afford". But we can afford the destruction of our environment.
My little hope is we get some advice by the so called less developed countries when they further develop their sludge and wastewater systems. And the study from Ruanda is anothera good example for progress!

Wish you all lots of power for your work in the field!
Heiner, the old farmer.....
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  • HAPitot
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Re: Article about Urine reuse example in Rwanda

Kris, an interesting project, indeed – thanks for posting!

It reminds me of the many ecosan projects going on up to about a decade ago. Such projects are not financed anymore by donors who seem to think there are better projects to spend their money on. Supposedly ecosan has failed because of a low interest and adoption rate. But if you talk to locals they actually tell you something different – like a lack of patience by donors. And then, of course, there is the bad example of so called developed countries where very little or nothing is done along the lines of ecosan.

May-be the time for ecosan has come back again. Not only do fertilizers based on human waste, urine in particular, need very little energy for their production, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they are also very cheep, a big argument now that energy and fertilizer prices are sky rocketing.
Hanns-Andre Pitot
M.Eng. Environmental Pollution Control
presently in Seesen, Germany
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  • paresh
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  • Budding WASH researcher, especially interested in governance, public policy, finance, politics and social justice. Architect, Urban & Regional planner by training, Ex. C-WAS, India. I am a patient person :)
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Re: Article about Urine reuse example in Rwanda

Thanks Kris for sharing this very informative piece. Are you aware of its if this was replicated in other schools? or elsewhere? It is an excellent example for replication including in India. Can be converged with the mid-day meal scheme through which students are provided meals in the school. I am not sure if parents are required to contribute but know that though it is a substantial spending the rate (per student) is abysmally low. Would be great if costs related information could be available. (I could not find more about the project through a simple search) 

The piece also reminded me of experiments by Scott in China, they posted about it in this thread

Paresh Chhajed-Picha
Researcher at Indian Institute of Technology - Bombay, India
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  • JKMakowka
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  • Just call me Kris :)
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Linking improvement in sanitation with food security - example from Rwanda

" How Rwanda Red Cross connected the use of human urine to food security "

Since it has become a bit quiet here in this section ;)

The article has some nice photos and videos about urine diversion toilets build in Rwanda.
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